By Rajesh Kumar Shakya, Ph.D. Student (DPA)
Poverty in numerous communities is significantly related to a lack of education, information, knowledge as well as of good governance. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is a powerful tool to address these root issues. Economic impoverishment is often related to market inefficiencies associated with poor market information, while poor governance is often related to low levels of community awareness of government activities – all these are information related, as are the skills to act on information itself. The focus on the ICTs partly represents recognition that these demands on today’s public sectors cannot realistically be resolved by traditional service delivery mechanisms of developing countries.
It seems that the ICTs, within the context of developing countries, are not just another economic infrastructure. The role of ICTs in development and especially in poor rural and regional areas has been accepted by the governments around the world as being particularly significant. Indeed these technologies possibly represent the only realistic option for delivering meaningful outcomes to much of the population within a foreseeable timeframe.
National and local governments around the world are embracing e-government – are putting services and information online, automating inefficient processes and interacting electronically with their citizens. The ICTs are able to inexpensively bring services to communities that currently have inadequate services or none at all. The option is often therefore, not between a human face and a computer; it is more likely between a computer and little or nothing at all.
This understanding forms the foundation for the vision of e-government. However, visioning in this area has become extensive and has far outreached implementation.
One of the principal lessons of e-government implementation worldwide is that the implementation roadmap for e-government must, on the one hand learn from international experience but must also be a home grown product. Thus any country implementing e-government can learn from the experiences of Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Australia, India and others as well as the less successful strategies, but must also contextualize a strategy for specific to their countries. A strategy that is simply imported from another jurisdiction represents the ‘black box’ approach and is almost guaranteed to lead to a loss of understanding, ownership and probably commitment, as well as engendering a culture of dependency.
Issues and Challenges
E-government is not a pre-packaged solution for participation and good governance, efficiency or clean government. Instead e-government entails deep public sector reform that must be evolutionary. E-government is about transformation where technology is a catalyst and a tool. Yet, if e-government is an isolated process and not part of a larger program for improvement then it is unlikely to deliver its potential or expected benefits. Success in e-government ultimately requires changes in how government manages information, and how civil servants undertake their jobs and interact with the community. E-government transformation like any major public sector reform also presents costs and risks, both financial and political.
These risks are usually significant. There are already several examples of failures in different countries because of insufficient understanding, loose ownership and uncoordinated implementation approach. Such failures not only waste opportunities and resources, but also challenge the public trust on e-government, and innovative programs initiated by the governments. Particularly the governments in developing world need to start with such dimensions of e-government, where chances of success is high, citizen support and participation is more likely, and also value-for-money is clearly visible and value-for-service can be appreciated. The first success may then bring the snow-ball effect on the implementation of other areas of e-government. Early failure may hold back the reform process and correcting the mistakes politically and financially may cost a lot. Simply using computer hardware and software, and automating the same old red tapes are not e-government. Public agencies need to identify the objectives for reform and then consider how technology can assist. Properly applied technology is a tool to enable and facilitate government reform, improperly applied technology is a waste of money. Moreover, e-government in the developing world mostly hindered by different socio-political, and need based challenges like volatile government leadership, lack of resource commitment, lack of access to technology, inadequate physical, legal and other supporting infrastructure, corruption, and many other cultural factors.
E-government cannot be implemented simply by issuing an order from political leaders or a central authority – this would be a futile expectation. E-government requires that officials change the perceptions and actions, and the way they exchange information between government departments (G2G), with the community/Citizens (G2C), and with business (G2B).
[Rajesh Kumar Shakya is the practitioner e-Government and e-Government Procurement Consultant for different governments in Asia, Europe, and Africa. More issues, aspects, and practices in e-government around the world will be discussed in his future posts.]